Has National Geographic lost its mind?

The February 2014 issue of National Geographic Kids promises to inform its adolescent readers "what their birthstone says about them."

Here's the cover in its full, uncropped, unabashedly doltish glory:


And here we thought no publication could possibly top New York Times Magazine for the dumbest, most scientifically inaccurate cover of the week.

The cover first came to our attention when we saw it posted on the Skepchick Facebook page. Baffled by the notion that NatGeo would stoop so low as to run a piece based on bullshit mysticism as its cover story, we decided to look into it.


Open the magazine to the article in question and you get an almost word-for-word rehash of the cover: "Gems that Rock: What Your Birthstone Says About You." Here's the difference: right below the headline you'll find a little blue circle that looks like it was added after the fact. Printed inside are five lines of white text that read: "If these descriptions don't match you, that's OK. These are just for fun":


Ohhhhh. This is just for fun! Now they tell us! Perhaps National Geographic Kids should consider changing its tagline from "Dare to Explore" to "Dare to bait kids with lies. Just for fun. (And profit.)"

The article goes on to list each month of the year and its corresponding gemstone. Included in each entry is a brief description of what each gemstone represents, along with "old school myths" and "rock-solid facts" associated with each stone. Pictured below is the writeup for January (click to enlarge):


Disappointingly, what each gemstone represents is not given as a one or two word description, but rather is described in terms that directly implicate the reader. "Being two-faced or half-hearted isn't your thing," reads the description for February's amethyst, which represents sincerity. "What you say to your friends and family is genuine and honest.")

I say "disappointing" because the description of what the reader's birthstone says about her personality or character is still listed separately from the "old-school myths" section for each stone. Presumably these descriptions fall under the "just for fun" proviso laid out at the beginning of the article. The magazine does a crummy, half-assed job of distinguishing between fact and fiction – and waits until the kid reading the magazine arrives at the article to do so.


Before somebody gets on my case for overreacting, let me be clear: I absolutely believe that any kid old enough to read National Geographic Kids is probably also intelligent enough to discern the "old school myths" from the "rock solid facts" that the magazine – to its genuine credit – makes a note of distinguishing between. I'm not particularly concerned with any kids being genuinely duped, here. Misled, certainly, but not duped.

What concerns me is the editorial decision by the National Geographic Society – one of the largest, most well-respected non-profit scientific and educational institutions in the worldto give bullshit pseudoscience* a foothold by granting it a full-page spread, front and center, on the cover of one of its publications, only to do a half-assed job of clarifying things within the article itself. And in a publication directed towards kids, no less. This is the kind of slip-up you might find buried in a 75-word blurb toward the back of a magazine. But the cover article? Get it together, NatGeo. You can do better.


*Can you even call the idea of divination-by-geology pseudoscience? How the hell would you even classify that?

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